Oklahoma tornadoes: Plaza Towers teachers, students reunite after tornado

Children from Plaza Towers Elementary gathered to say goodbye to their teachers and their friends Thursday morning. They hugged, cried and celebrated.
BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL ccoppernoll@opubco.com Modified: May 23, 2013 at 8:55 pm •  Published: May 24, 2013

Jennifer Simonds was lying over her six kindergarten students when a car fell on them. Her arm was crushed, and a boy broke his hand.

But they all were able to walk away from Plaza Towers Elementary, which was left in a pile of rubble after a tornado demolished it Monday afternoon.

Thursday morning was the first time she had the chance to see her students since then.

“It's amazing,” the second-year teacher said. “I hope it's been good for them. It's been good for me, because it's been a rough couple days.”

Children from Plaza Towers Elementary gathered to say goodbye to their teachers and their friends at Eastlake Elementary, a nearby school that offered its extra space.

Students at Briarwood Elementary met at nearby Wayland Bonds to do the same. Friday, students from Highland East Junior High will get together at Moore High School.

The gatherings were a time to say goodbye and a time to celebrate survival.

Matthew Shippers brought his son, Kaden, a kindergartner in Simonds's class.

“I wanted to thank the woman who saved my son's life,” Shippers said.

Kaden Shippers held up a tan cast wrapped around his arm.

“I've got castses,” he said.

He has a fractured hand and cuts on his head, but he was feeling good, he said.

“Mrs. Simonds was over us and we were under a car,” Kaden said. “I made it out. That's all.”

Kaden was brave, Simonds said. All of her kids were.

As the tornado approached, Simonds was in the hallway with her children. They sang songs. She rubbed their backs to help keep them calm.

“All of a sudden it was people yelling, ‘Get down!' Then you just heard the glass shattering,” she said. “We just started getting hit with stuff and covered, and I just grabbed backpacks off the hooks above me and laid them on my babies' heads. And I just said, ‘This is going to hurt.' And I just laid on them.”

Simonds remembers her prayer: “Take me. Take me. Not my babies.”

They were all OK. She and Kaden both have casts on their arms, but, as she said, it will all heal.

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